Friday, July 23, 2010

Last Post: Thoughts and Hopes

When I think about the life I have lived, I have always been thinking on things, trying to figure out how to do something better, or trying to understand why I am the way I am or why someone else is the way they are or why things are the way they are and how they might be different. I am always at work, whether I mean to be or not, in trying to understand things. And, my thinking has always pushed me into a mystery where thinking stops and has to give way to wonder. Another way to say this is that this drive I have to understand leads towards a mystery in which the One who created all life dwells. However, my thinking only leads me in this direction when it is characterized by trust and hope. When my thinking becomes characterized or fueled by distrust and despair (sin), I think myself away from the mystery and "into a corner."

As H. Richard Niebuhr has written, life comes down to one basic thing: whether you respond to the "power that brought you forth" with trust or distrust. Whether you view life with trust or distrust; whether you view others with trust or distrust; whether you experience deep down that the Power that brought all things into being is gracious or callous (or, perhaps cruel or indifferent).

If this is the deepest response of a human being that colors all other responses we make day to day, do we make it consciously or unconsciously? Clearly, it is a mixture of conscious and unconscious feeling/thought. If this is the basic response that determines all other responses in life, it is significant to note that the Psalm writer, who is surely our guide in spiritual matters, struggles often between a basic feeling of thanksgiving and complaint towards God. But, complaint about God's seeming distance and complaint about God's slowness in acting, is not the same thing as distrust of God. In fact, the act of complaining in the Psalms shows that the Psalm writer continues to place his hopes in God, continues to see God as his salvation amidst times of sorrow and even bitterness, and continues to believe that God is well-disposed towards him and his people.

And, as I close this last post on this blog, I end with one question: can a person who doesn't claim to "believe in God" be making a positive response to God in his or her living without being consciously aware of the "theological" meaning of life? I, along with H. Richard Niebuhr and Karl Rahner, think that the answer is clearly "yes." Jesus is the one who said: "It is not those who say, "Lord, Lord," who will enter into the kingdom of heaven but those who do the will of my father who is in heaven." I give thanks for all those who are walking in that mercy and fairness and love intended for us all by the One Creator, Judge and Redeemer of all life. I give thanks for all goodness in human life, whether it comes from those who profess to have faith in God or those who do not. In the end, the prayer that moves my heart is: "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." That God be given God's due on earth; that God's righteousness be known on earth; that God's good ways be manifest in human life; that God may no more have to suffer the injustice that is done on earth; that the One true and holy and kind and wise being might be honored and loved and respected and thanked for bearing all of humanity's struggle and trouble and sin. That God might finally have another Sabbath, and a chance to sit back and look at all creation and behold that it is very, very good. That is the hope of my heart.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


I haven’t had coffee for two months or so now because I was having some minor stomach trouble. But, I had some this morning! I had forgotten how much I love coffee, just how good it really is! After my first couple of sips, I found myself elated and thinking: “I will give up whatever I have to give up as long as I can drink coffee! I mean, if I have to cut back to one job to get my stomach in order, then I’ll do that!”

I was almost like the prodigal son returning home who thought: “I’ll be happy to live in the servant quarters, just as long as I can stay at home!”

Well, I am going a little overboard in talking about career changes and all that just to make sure I don’t have to give up coffee again. But, sometimes it is little experiences like this that really get us thinking about our lives. Sometimes realizing how wonderful a simple pleasure is makes us give thanks for our lives, which are not always so simple.

I remember my Dad, after he had lost his ability to walk, saying to me: “Don’t ever pass up the chance to take a good walk.” Or, as Joni Mitchell sings: “You don’t know what you got til it’s gone.”

Strange what a couple of good sips of coffee can get you thinking about.

Afraid of change; afraid of staying the same?

I asked a couple of posts ago: "Can human beings really change?" Now, it occurs to me to ask: "Can human beings possibly stay the same?"

We change to survive, don't we? And, then again, there is some continuity in our history that makes life meaningful. Without this continuity (commitment, faithfulness, loyalty, integrity, consistency), nothing much endures or is accomplished. But, this continuity has to walk hand-in-hand (befriend) change,or else it is a rigid, life-killing continuity.

Here are the words from a song called What A Good Boy by the "Bare Naked Ladies." I always liked it. It certainly questions outer expectations that are placed upon us, but also the internal struggle to be, well, who we really need to be. And, amidst all that there is the fear of change, and, yes, the fear of staying the same and the yearning to find someone who will stay with us through all of that.

"When I was born, they looked at me and said,
What a good boy, what a smart boy, what a strong boy.
And when you were born, they looked at you and said,
What a good girl, what a what a smart girl, what a pretty girl.
We've got these chains that hang around our necks
people want to strangle us with them before we take our first breath.
Afraid of change, afraid of staying the same,
when temptation calls, we just look away.


"This name is the hairshirt I wear
and this hairshirt is woven from your brown hair.
This song is the cross that I bear,
bear it with me, bear with me, bear with me, be with me tonight,
I know that it isn't right, but be with me tonight.

"I go to school, I write exams,
if I pass, if I fail, if I drop out,
does anyone give a damn?
And if they do, they'll soon forget 'cause it won't take much for me
to show my life ain't over yet.

"I wake up scared, I wake up strange.
I wake up wondering if anything in my life is ever going to change.
I wake up scared, I wake up strange
and everything around me stays the same.


"I couldn't tell you that I was wrong,
chickened out, grabbed a pen and paper, sat down and I wrote this song.
I couldn't tell you that you were right,
so instead I looked in the mirror,
watched TV, laid away all night.

"We've got these chains, hang 'round our necks,
people want to strangle us with them before we take our first breath.
Afraid of change, afraid of staying the same when temptation calls ...


"When I was born, they looked at me and said;
What a good boy, what a smart boy, what a strong boy.
And when you were born, they looked at you and said;
What a good girl, what a smart girl, what a pretty girl, hey. . ."

Word from St. Clement

"O Lord, help us to be children of quietness and heirs of peace."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Can Human Beings Really Change?

This question haunts history and often haunts our personal lives as well. "Can he, can she, can I really change?" It was this question, I believe, that haunted Nicodemas, and why the old respected teacher came by night to seek wisdom from the young, country prophet. And, this prophet, who was more than a prophet said to Nicodemas: "You must be born again . . . of the Spirit of God."

I like the language "born again." It conveys the radical starting over, giving up, and newness of life from God that comes among us and to us in Jesus.

But, we, like Nicodemas, think and feel: "But, how can a man really start over (or, as Nicodemas literally said: "Can a man go back into his mother's womb?")? Or, as Jackson Browne sings: "The future's there for anyone to change, still you know it seems, it would be easier sometimes to change the past."

"Can he ever change? Can she ever change? Can I change?"

In a British novel I was reading yesterday, one of the characters gives an opinion on this question saying: "No, but people can learn to manage themselves a bit better."

From the human side, maybe that is a pretty good answer. Maybe it is when we learn to manage ourselves a little bit better that the soil is prepared for change. Maybe that is all we can do. Learn to manage ourselves a little bit better and hope for the change that comes from beyond, the Spirit that blows where it wills, and nobody knows where it starts and where it ends. It takes faith to believe we can learn to manage ourselves better, and faith to believe that that prepares the ground for a transformation that we can't manage but only accept with thanksgiving and wonder.

*For the story of Nicodemas, see the Gospel of John in the New Testament of the Christian Bible, the first part of chapter 3.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Holy Words from a Holy Man

"I never lost hope that this great transformation would occur. Not only because of the great heroes . . . , but because of the courage of the ordinary men and women of my country. I always knew that deep down in every human heart, there is mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. Even in the grimmest times in prison, when my comrads and I were pushed to our limits, I would see a glimmer of humanity in one of the guards, perhaps just for a second, but it was enough to reassure me and keep me going. Man's goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished."

- Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom : The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela (Little,Brown & Co., NY 1994), p.622

Blog ending on July 23, 2010

I started this blog in March of 2009 to do some writing about some things that mattered to me. I have enjoyed writing, but am not too interested in continuing the blog at this point. Thanks to those of you who read and thought along with me about some of these things. I may try another blog sometime, but I am going to close this one down by the end of the week.